The hungry i (lowercase intentional) was a San Francisco club where, in its heyday, one could see Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, The Kingston Trio, Woody Allen, Maya Angelou and many others. These days, the actual location is a parking garage, and its homonymic descendant, The Hungry I, is a strip club. But the fully clothed challenge to the status quo that is the spirit of that old place lives on in one man. And it lives as a traveling, one-man circus of sorts.
His name is Roy Zimmerman, and he's from San Francisco. He plays the guitar (if only left-handed!), sings songs, and sits to the left of, well, just about everyone. Where Woody Guthrie's guitar was a machine that killed fascists, Zimmerman's banjo is one that "drives neocon, homophobic, war-mongering, corporatist, anti-intellectual, polluting, imperialistic, crypto-fascist, hate-speak, faux-populist, theocratic chickenhawk privateers from the room" (we know this because the entire screed is written on the front of the instrument). Not as violent, but way, way, way more specific.
Political ideology in mind, Zimmerman launched his concept.
"In the spirit of the hungry i, and in these changing times, I'm opening The Starving Ear, a virtual nightclub and global meeting place," Zimmerman said a few years ago when he launched this concept. Brick and mortar? Unnecessary. YouTube posts? Part of running the place. And that place is, by Zimmerman's testimony, a folk club, a comedy stage, and a virtual coffeehouse -- and one that travels with him wherever he goes; kind of like that one crazy guy you occasionally read about in "News of the Weird" who tells police their laws don't apply to him because he is the leader of a sovereign nation, the borders of which surround him and move as he does.
Only Zimmerman's not crazy. He's really, really clever. He's actually clever enough that Tom Lehrer -- the singer-songwriter of the '50s and '60s who was responsible for the topical songs for NBC's "The Week That Was," among other musical contributions -- recently noted that Zimmerman's songs "rhyme, they don't just 'rhyne.'" High praise indeed from one wordsmith for another.
Circus Comes to Town.
"The Starving Ear is the anti-Twitter, a hub for the exchange of music and comedy and commentary that will definitely not be reduced to 140 characters," Zimmerman said. "In fact, we'll fill this place with as many characters as the fire marshal will allow."
His trek through Green Country comes courtesy of the good people at the Atheist Community of Tulsa (ACT). How Zimmerman and the ACT joined forces is an interesting tale, and one of selfishness. And come on, those are sometimes the best stories.
ACT president William Poiré got hooked on Zimmerman several years ago when he stumbled across a YouTube video of "Creation Science 101" ("Creation Science 101 / In the beginning, it begun, / And you are just beginning to / Educate yourself when you / Shun Evolution"). Upon further exploration, Poiré found the leftist leanings and wordplay much to his liking.
"When I first ascended to the presidency of ACT, I thought, 'I really like this guy,'" Poiré said. "I took over the bank account and thought, 'What can I do with this money?'"
The story so far: Poiré had money he needed to spend. Problem solved: "I like this guy, and I get to spend other people's money to see him." Worked out well for everyone, it would seem.
In more ways than one, as well. To whit: according to Poiré, "any publicity is good publicity," so ACT gets its name out there; more people visit the Nightingale Theater -- something everyone should do more of -- and Zimmerman gets to put more notches in his belt.
His belt? you ask. Yes, I reply snarkily. It seems that, in this year in which we will all endure attack ads and taxpayer-funded character assassination on a national scale, Zimmerman has embarked on a tour during which he will attempt to perform in all 50 states before the August Republican National Convention -- something he tried in 2008, but just barely missed.
"Hawaii was a bridge too far, and Alaska was a bridge to nowhere," Zimmerman said. Ba-dum-bum.
So is this some ploy by godless heathens to make Tulsa reject God through some serpentine conspiracy involving a traveling musician who sings funny songs?
Um, no. Not really.
A quick look at some of Zimmerman's videos on YouTube (titles include "Ted Haggard Is Completely Heterosexual," "The Unions Are To Blame," and "My Conservative Girlfriend," among others) reveals a lightning-fast and laser-sharp wit.
"The reason why he appeals to me is lyrically," Poiré said. "It doesn't have anything to do with his religious belifes. I think he's a theist, actually."
But there is some element of response to the unspoken "truth" that God is not only an American, but a Republican.
"I think it's ironic. You know, 'Hey, we Republicans have Jesus on our side,'" Poiré said.
"Look, I think if Jesus existed, he was a pretty cool guy. And he taught things like, if your neighbor is cold, take your jacket off and give it to him.
"In the Bible -- don't quote me on this -- but when the guy says, 'How can I get into heaven,' and Jesus tells him to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor, and follow him, well, that says to me that Jesus wasn't a Republican. He was very much a socialist," he said.
So here comes Roy Zimmerman to Tulsa, kids. Ready or not.
Zimmerman brings his mobile, global coffeehouse and personal Algonquin Round Table to the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St., this Friday, Feb. 3 at 7:00pm. Admission is $15 cash at the door. Further information at actok.org or nightingaletheater.org.
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